Once upon a time, a much younger version of myself recalls visiting the Willow Grove Naval Base to watch awe-inspiring air shows. These shows were spectacular, as brave and highly skilled pilots performed wondrous acts of flight for the benefit of the community. Unfortunately, the very same community that once enjoyed these spectacular air shows must now cope with the reality that the base is accused of releasing cancer-causing chemicals into local water supplies by the use of toxic fire-suppressing foams. Now, for the first time, a Pennsylvania family has filed suit alleging that their drinking water was tainted by toxic chemicals from the use of certain firefighting foams.
By way of background, since the 1960s, the U.S. military has used fire-suppressing foam in order to administer fire-training exercises, and on occasion, to assist with putting out crash fires on bases. Problematically, this very same fire-suppressing foam contains toxic perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and other unsafe chemicals. Unfortunately, there is substantial evidence that these chemicals have since contaminated groundwater and water wells. In addition to being linked to health problems, such as kidney and testicular cancers, these noxious chemicals remain in the human body for years and persist in the environment indefinitely without appropriate interventions. At this time, the EPA continues to investigate the sources of exposure to local residents’ water supplies, but dozens of water well samples indicate contamination by significant levels of PFCs.
The filing of this lawsuit marks the first time that a civil action will seek to prove that a Pennsylvania resident was harmed by chemically-contaminated water from the use of fire-suppressing foam at the Montgomery County military base.
Although the facts surrounding these exposures, and the risks to the community, continue to be assessed, the story of Willow Grove Base provides a stark reminder that a private company’s design, manufacture and sale of toxic products can have far-reaching consequences, including the contamination of drinking water and the ability to cause serious diseases in humans.